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Amazonia: Five Years at the Epicenter of the Dot.Com Juggernaut Hardcover – June 17, 2004
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With Amazonia, James Marcus adds to the ever-simmering stew of Amazon.com analysis a new, almost quaint perspective: that of an employee hired for his expertise in literature. Marcus traces the company's familiar climb, plummet, and re-ascent, but this time we witness the pyrotechnics from the book-strewn hallways of the editorial department.
After an abbreviated heydey, editorial talent lost cachet at the burgeoning Internet behemoth, replaced by metrics worship and automated innovations like "truncating widgets." Despite the demoralizing shift, Marcus makes evident the loyalty editors continued to display, a "quasi-religious devotion almost impossible to explain to outsiders." The concept of making history was just too intoxicating for most to abandon (as were the stock options).
Marcus's writing has enough genuine humor and self-deprecation to squelch any accusations of "optimizing for optics," or worse, whining. Aside from a few sections that feel somewhat adrift (oblique mentions of an imploding marriage and an extended Emerson sidebar) the prose is driving and the voice engaging and remarkably fair.
For anyone who worked at Amazon.com in the early days, reading Amazonia is akin to leafing through a high school yearbook (I was an Amazon editor from 1997-2002). Nostalgia is inescapable--even for the irritations of the time, like All Hands Meetings (pep rallies) and the exaltation of MBAs (the popular kids). The thing about yearbooks, though, is that we're really only interested in our own. Whether outsiders will be as captivated by this surf down virtual memory lane is questionable. For alums, it's a lasting keepsake. --Brangien Davis
From Publishers Weekly
With Amazon.com firmly established as one of the leaders in e-commerce, it is easy to forget the company's early roots as a struggling online bookstore. Marcus, who was employee 55 and one of Amazon's first editors, provides a captivating, witty account of how the fledgling e-retailer transformed itself from a startup that generated $16 million in sales in 1996 to a behemoth with revenue of $5.3 billion in 2003. The early days of Amazon, Marcus recounts, were full of a do-it-yourself attitude, with everyone at the company encouraged to try different ways to drive customers to the site. In Marcus's case, it was writing and assigning reviews, the content designed to make people decide what to buy. But although Amazon founder Jeff Bezos began as a firm believer in the power of content, his philosophy gradually changed to what Marcus calls the "culture of metrics," in which everything connected to the site could be measured. And as Amazon added more and more products, the importance of content slipped away. It's clear Marcus's most satisfying time at Amazon was in the early years, even if that meant picking and packing books during the holiday rush. There is even a bit of nostalgia in his tone, which people in the book industry can especially appreciate: once upon a time there was a company whose employees scrambled to sell books over this new thing called the Internet. Today the company has become a software and retailing machine dedicated to selling as many widgets as efficiently as possible.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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" Whenever a true theory appears, it will be its own evidence. Its test is, that it will explain all phenomena. Now many are thought not only unexplained but inexplicable, as language, sleep, madness, dreams,, beasts, sex"
How does this relate to Amazon, hang on this is going to be a fun ride!
In 1996, Marcus James, author, lived in Portland, Oregon with his wife and baby son. He was trying to support them all with his writing and not succeeding. He received an offer to apply for a job at this new Dot.com, Amazon. He flew to Seattle- met with Jeff Bezos in the small building that had doors as desks. The interview with Jeff was a bit bizarre- Jeff asked everyone what their SAT scores were and also included some esoteric questions. James did well and asked a question of his own, knowing Jeff's first job was working with Hedge Funds. He asked for an explanation of Hedge Funds, and how they worked. He was also interviewed by almost everyone else at Amazon and felt the excitement in the place.
After a bit of time, James and family were ensconced in Seattle. James was the first senior editor to write reviews of the books Amazon was selling. He met some extraordinary people and had good success. He was in at the beginning, housing in a warehouse, and saw Amazon grow from a small group of 40 or so to thousands and thousands of employees. He saw the growth from email account with CompuServe or crash-prone AOl to high-speed computer software that does everything. He and the rest of the employees all went to the warehouse at Christmas time and helped wrap and pack books. They roamed all over the warehouse for each order and learned the works. James saw the explosive rise of Amazon.com and the traumatic fall, where all of his colleagues were looking over their back waiting for the "pink" slip. James survived at Amazon, and if it was not for the death of his marriage, and a new found love, he might still be there. He tells us about these colleagues, their quirks and successes. His first trip to the Chicago Book Fair, and his time manning the Amazon.com booth. The funny stories of their retreats and company picnics. The goofy things that happened, the fun and excitement of a new start-up.
This is not a tell-all book, James wrote and perfected the first 45 word review known as" haiku of book criticism." I am a reviewer at Amazon, and I have great interest in how the gold stars, rankings and Jeff Bezos philosophy "Every day is the first day of Amazon.com " works. This is an inside look at Amazon- the fun and the freakiness. A book hard to put down.
James Marcus is an excellent writer- informative, funny and precise. I finished the book feeling like I have met people who worked at a succesful company that includes community and understands the real world of commerce.
Recommended. prisrob 07-30-04
Though James Marcus was the quintessential fish out of water, a 37-year-old among younger co-workers, a humanist among the MBAs, an irony-eating Easterner come to live among the irony-shy Pacific Northwesterners, he plunged in and stayed with Amazon for five years during its mercurial rise. It is a credit to his writing skills that he is able to convey the real-time motion of the individual in a workplace moving at warp speed. A thematic conflict emerges from this garage-to-empire tale: how does a person hold onto the self in a virtual wind tunnel? It wasn't always easy, especially with the added curve of those stock options that paid off handsomely at first. Interestingly, of all the players, the energetic master of it all seems to remain the least affected by the riptide.
Marcus is a gifted chronicler. He provides a fair behind-the-scenes picture of how events and phenomena unfolded. His account is always thoughtful and often hilarious. It says a lot about our entire culture and how technology is redefining it. He refers to his years at Amazon as an "epoch," an extraordinary concept when you remember that all of this unfolded less than ten years ago.
Marcus delivers the goods; a remarkable feat. To boot, he sent me back to my Emerson and reminded me to plug a long-felt gap of 'Rubber Soul'.
For those in the know, this skim thru the pages will either whet your appetite or drain the blood from your DMAIC-ized features.
Shop the Web; PlanetAll; Junglee; truncated widgets; that appalling "Jeff bought you Babe" cabaret turn; Thai-food scoffing Ron Hogan; Jordana; GOHIO; Galli; Jim Kibble; Rick Ayre (hilariously captured in all his psychiatric epidemiological caperings); BEA; K Koberg; 'Optimizing for Optics' and all the other suit-speke mumbo-jumbo; Six-Sigma; the marketing Ms Koch and her newsgroups; dahling Kay Dangaard (still remembered in Hong Kong for duking out a pommie husband-snatcher on the Lamma Ferry); slithery and 50-syllabled dapper Davie Risher (complete with rubric 'marketorial'); Josh and BISAC; fractal; Jeff's 'vaunted amiability'; the Culture of Metrics; J Kilar, whose laser-surgefied eyes "always had a supernatural shine to them"; NASDAQ hitting 5,048.62; the Nisqually Earthquake hitting a respectable Richterian 6.8; dread 'reorgs'; Darwinian ranking practices; Project X; ; competencies charts; wallet share, PBMs versus SNPs, Miss Tasso Pok; Dawson Street; Russ Algor ... and, of course, Amabot.
Moving, measured, mischievous. A must-buy from a writer to watch.
Most recent customer reviews
I found it to be a rare, and candid, glimpse into the works and evolution of a corporate entity.Read more
Marcus provides interesting insights but sometimes he's pretty superficial on the "facts" and more focused on...Read more